Ilford’s long-distance hero Catton has been battling a new foe in Coronavirus

Andy Catton of Ilford AC

Andy Catton of Ilford AC - Credit: Archant

Marathon man is slowly recovering from a new challenge

Andy Catton of Ilford AC on the seafront

Andy Catton of Ilford AC on the seafront - Credit: Archant

These are certainly testing times. A nice feature on local athlete Andy Catton on his many years at Ilford Athletics Club took a different turn right from the off of our conversation.

“Myself and my wife Sheila have been in quarantine for nearly two weeks after contracting the Coronavirus,” said the 66-year-old when I got him on the phone.

Andy Catton of Ilford AC club record holder for so many distances

Andy Catton of Ilford AC club record holder for so many distances - Credit: Archant

Blimey, I wasn’t expecting that although in these unprecedented times I suppose it was an inevitable occurrence.

“We haven’t been tested but we both definitely have had it,” he continued.

Ilford's Andy Catton with some of the clubs successful youngsters

Ilford's Andy Catton with some of the clubs successful youngsters - Credit: Archant

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“The thing about having it is you feel so physically drained. I went and cut the grass yesterday because I felt much better, but after I did that I was shattered for the next couple of hours.

“Both me and my wife are physically fit which has certainly helped. My lung capacity is good and that has meant that I have had no breathing troubles.”

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It is clear this virus can prey on anybody, but whatever your age, if you are as fit as an athlete like Andy you are going to recover from it

For Andy it has been a remarkable athletic career at Ilford AC for over 50 years during which time he has rewritten the club record books in no uncertain terms.

“I joined Ilford on my 11th birthday in 1964,” he recalls. “My godfather Edgar Moon who was an important part of the club came round to my house and presented me with my membership card.

“My father Jim was also a member and a good athlete so I guess it was in the genes.”

It certainly was as well as a some fine and patient coaching, Andy became one of the leading lights in the club, especially over the longer distances.

“I was only 8 stone 11 or 12 and very thin with a big lung capacity and a resting heartbeat of around 25-30 beats a minute, so I was ideally suited to longer distances right up to the marathon,” he said.

A glance at the Ilford record books certainly bears that out.

At every distance from 5k to marathon, he is either number one or number two on their all-time list, a statistic he is certainly proud of.

“I suppose my 5,000 metre record was probably the most impressive, but taking the club marathon record from an Ilford legend like Dennis Plater was really pleasing,” he said.

That came at the London Marathon way back in 1985 when he clocked an admirable 2hrs 19mins 04secs, a formidable time even today.

It has been a remarkable athletics career for Catton and all at Ilford and he is not planning to stop yet.

“Ilford is a unique club,” he said. “It has never changed its base, never merged with another club and we will celebrate the centenary in 2023.

“The best thing for me has been the camaraderie and the friends you make that make Ilford such a special club.”

And going forward there seems to be plenty of talent coming through.

“We have some great youngsters at the club and though it does take a bit of luck to get them, but a lot of it is word of mouth,” he said.

“They all train together and what is more they are a great bunch of lads.

“We have also seen athletes like Paul Grange come to the club and he has just run the second fastest 800m for a 40-year-old in the UK.”

Of course, that has now all ground to a halt with a virus that has certainly hit Andy on a personal level.

“It is such a tough thing to run an athletics club,” he said. “It is like six differentr sports in one and takes a lot of organisation.

“I am also on the county athletics board and it has been so depressing having to cancel all the events for the summer, but there is no alternative.”

Most people are stuck at home but Andy is sure that everyone can get a bit of exercise while they are there, as long as they are careful.

“There are a lot of things you can still do off the internet to try and keep fit, but most of us can get out and have a walk or a bike ride and it is important,” he said.

“I am looking forward to getting back out there soon.”

And that is the sort of attitude that will win this war against the virus.

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